The Smart Mushroom: The Wide Ranging Benefits of Lion’s Mane

Would you eat a mushroom that looks like a Hostess Snowflake every day for the rest of your life if it meant you’d get less depressed and anxious? What if it lowered your chances of developing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS and other neuro-degenerative diseases? Lion’s mane, the white, fluffy, straight-out-of-Dr. Seuss, hedge-hog-looking fungus, also known as Yamabushitake, is being actively studied as a potential nerve regenerator and antidepressant. These studies are exciting, to be sure, but I can tell, from my own personal experience and the experience of friends and patients, that lion’s mane works!

Lion’s mane has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine. It typically grows on the bark of old or dead trees and can be found in many regions of the US, including the Northeast and the South, as well as in Europe and Asia. It is used to strengthen the spleen and the gut, our bodies’ two linked centers of digestion. In addition to lion’s mane’s digestive benefits, the mushroom is known to have positive effects on the central nervous system, and is therefore often prescribed in TCM to treat insomnia, loss of focus, feelings of weakness, and feelings of stress and anxiety, to name a few. Many scientific studies confirm these benefits and the traditional medical establishment is slowly coming to recognize what TCM practitioners have known for centuries: Lion’s mane’s neurological significance is immense. The mushroom contains hericenones and erinacines, both types of terpenoids, which is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon, that can induce nerve growth factor (NGF) synthesis in nerve cells. Nerve growth! That means if someone is exhibiting dementia symptoms, for example, taking lion’s mane could potentially reverse these symptoms. A 2009 study found that subjects with mild cognitive impairment who took 250 mg of lion’s mane three times a day for 16 weeks had significantly improved scores on cognitive function tests. And a 2016 article in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences stated that based on experiments with mice, lion’s mane “may serve as a neuroprotective candidate for treating or preventing neurodegenerative diseases.” Lion’s mane’s effect on the brain is not limited to treatment/prevention of the diseases commonly associated with old age–Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia; in fact, lion’s mane has also been shown to be effective in treating anxiety, depression, and symptoms associated with menopause. And lion’s mane is an effective “brain booster”: taken as a supplement or stirred into a beverage (see below for recipe ideas), it allows you to focus, keeps you grounded and sharp, and even improves your memory.

How to Incorporate Lions’s Mane into your daily routine. 

  • With Sun Potion’s Lion’s Mane Mind Power Mushroom Powder, you can easily add Lion’s Mane to a simple glass of water in the mornings to get you started on the right foot, or stir it into tea or coffee. Sun Potion even suggests adding it to smoothies, shakes, dressings, broths and soups!
  • Dr. Mark Hyman’s Lion’s Mane Latte is a delicious and effective way to reap the wide-ranging benefits of this fungus. And, as an added bonus for those of you trying to cut down on your coffee intake but still craving a hot beverage that will help you focus, with this creamy latte, you’ll get all the advantages and none of the acidic crash and burn of coffee.
  • Dr. Hyman uses Four Sigmatic in his mushroom latte. I absolutely love their Mushroom Matcha with Lion’s Mane. If you use code SHINESOULBRIGHT at checkout, you’ll get 10% off of sun potion’s Lions Maine Powder. 

This may sound like it’s not for the faint of heart, given the very strange look of this mushroom when raw, but straight-up grilled or sautéed lion’s mane is delicious! And once you try it, I think you’ll be a convert. Try this recipe, which uses only butter (you can easily substitute extra virgin olive oil), pepper and salt to complement and bring out the meaty, earthy, nutty richness of the mushroom. You can find fresh, whole lions mane at the farmer’s markets, in some health food stores–or, in the hardwood forest next door! Note: mushrooms can be extremely toxic! Make sure you go mushroom foraging with an expert mycologist and always consult before eating.